10th Anniversary Series: SciELO, Google Scholar and Latin American Journals

The second article in our 10th Anniversary Series is by Abel Packer. He is the director of the SciELO Program which has transformed scholarly publishing in Latin America. Given SciELO's multi-lingual reach, this post appears in English, Portuguese and Spanish. - Anurag Acharya.

SciELO, Google Scholar and Latin American Journals

Abel L. Packer
SciELO/FAPESP Program, Director

SciELO is 16 years old. Today, it publishes approximately one thousand selected peer-reviewed open access journals grouped into national collections. The SciELO Network currently comprises 16 national collections, 13 from Latin America and three from Portugal, Spain and South Africa.

The primary goal of SciELO is to provide growing visibility to the research published by national journals. When SciELO was launched these journals were print-only, usually with a small subscriber base. Only a few journals were indexed in citation indexes and there was no way of determining the real or potential impact that most of the journals had in their respective fields.

Today, we estimate about one million downloads a day across the network, 500 thousand of them from SciELO Brazil as based on COUNTER-compliant statistics. The total number of articles hosted across the SciELO Network is over 450 thousand.

Two important questions: how did SciELO succeed in setting up such a broad-based operation and achieve such an impressive performance in terms of downloads and why have so many countries and journals joined the SciELO Network?

There are four major factors. First, the reputation and leadership of the driving organizations. The SciELO project was established and nurtured by the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), widely known in Brazil as the most efficient and advanced research agency in the country, and the Latin American and Caribbean Center in Health Sciences Information (BIREME), which is affiliated with the Pan American Health Organization and the WHO. The initial motivation for the partnership was to develop a citation index covering a more comprehensive collection of journals beyond the 17 which were then indexed in the Journal Citation Reports from ISI. Soon after launch, the Chilean National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT) joined the effort. From 2002 on, the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and other national research agencies started also to support SciELO.

Second, the selective acceptance criteria applied to journals for SciELO collections. Only open access peer-reviewed journals with an editorial board composed of well-known researchers, a reasonable rejection rate of manuscripts and standards-compliant publication processes were accepted. The best journals of Brazil were invited by FAPESP to join SciELO. CONICYT took a similar approach for SciELO Chile. This helped set the expectation of selective acceptance criteria for new national collections.

Third, the tremendous impact of Google Scholar which was decisive in moving the program ahead. As soon as Google Scholar began indexing SciELO, the traffic to SciELO sites increased to such an extraordinary extent that the general panorama was completely changed. The dramatic growth contributed, in a major way, to overcome the resistance that publishers had towards online publication. Google Scholar showed publishers, editors, authors and users that online publication was the new paradigm for the dissemination of journals and that SciELO could help them to achieve it. The processes put in place by SciELO to create structured versions of the articles and metadata, as well as standardization of article formatting were a key component in the rapid success of the indexing effort.

Fourth, the success and the increasing use of SciELO, together with quality control on the journals, led national research evaluation systems to include SciELO as an index in their evaluation criteria. This favored an increase in manuscript submissions to indexed journals, which provided an additional impetus to the program.

The other ongoing objective of SciELO is to increase the impact of the research communicated by its journals. A key requirement for this is to identify and count citations to SciELO journals and articles. SciELO computes bibliometric indicators covering the journals it hosts. To measure broader impact, SciELO initially relied on Web of Science (WoS) and Scopus. However, these indexes have an incomplete coverage of SciELO journals. For example, in 2014 Scopus covers 70% of the journals in SciELO Brazil, and WoS only 36%. To partially solve this lack in coverage, SciELO concluded an agreement with Thomson Reuters to include, as of 2014, the SciELO Citation Index in the WoS platform which provides a wider coverage, particularly in the physical and life sciences.

However, Google Scholar has much broader coverage worldwide, even more so in social sciences and humanities. As a result, Scholar Metrics offers more comprehensive citation numbers. These are now used by SciELO to evaluate the broader influence of its journals. Scholar Metrics are also a key part of the evaluation process for new journals that want to become part of SciELO. In this regard, what we would really like in Scholar Metrics is the availability of an annual series of indicators, and extending the journal rankings beyond 100.

SciELO and Google Scholar have walked a long way together. Together, we have helped to significantly increase the worldwide visibility of Latin American journals and journals of Portugal, Spain and South Africa. On its anniversary, we would like to congratulate the Scholar team for the impressive development of Google Scholar, a comprehensive search service that many gifted minds once only dreamed of. Long live Google Scholar!